MOGADISHU (AFP) – Somali military commanders Monday celebrated the capture of the last major port held by Islamist Shebab insurgents, as the government secured control of the town for the first time in over two decades.
“Al-Shebab are no longer in Barawe,” military commander Abdirisak Khalif Elmi told hundreds of residents Monday, calling on citizens to support the government.
Tanks and armoured vehicles patrolled the town Monday, after the al-Qaeda-linked Shebab retreated late last week ahead of the advance.
The capture of Barawe, with troops entering Sunday but with mopping up operations continuing, removes a key source of revenue for the Islamist militia.
The African Union’s AMISOM force, which draws 22,000 soldiers from six nations, said Barawe, 200 kilometres (120 miles) southwest of Mogadishu, fell without “much resistance from the terrorist group.”
“Barawe is now under the control of SNA (Somali National Army) supported by AMISOM forces – the first time in 23 years, Barawe is under Somali government control,” AMISOM said Monday.
The fall of Barawe is a major blow for the insurgents, and came just a month after the death of their leader Ahmed Abdi Godane in a US air and drone strike.
“Somalia is waking to a brighter future,” UN special representative in Somalia Nick Kay said, in a congratulatory message to government and AU forces.
While some troops conducted house-to-house searches for weapons, the main body of soldiers were setting up bases just outside the town, local governor Abdukadir Mohamed Nur said.
“Operations to ensure security are ongoing,” Nur added.
Residents reported the Indian Ocean port was quiet, beyond soldiers firing into the air in celebration.
“Tanks and other armed vehicles entered this morning and houses have been searched, they were targeting some houses where al-Shebab commanders lived,” said Ali Nurow, a resident.
“The situation is calm and there is no fighting — except heavy fire into the air by Somali and AMISOM troops when they have re-entered the town,” said Isak Mohamed, another resident.
The Shebab exported charcoal through Barawe to Gulf countries, earning at least $25 million (19 million euros) a year from the trade according to UN estimates.
The Shebab have vowed to avenge their leader’s death and to continue their fight to topple the country’s internationally-backed government.
On Saturday, a Shebab commander, Mohamed Abu Abdallah, said the militia would continue to stage attacks.
“The fighting will continue and we will turn the town into graveyards of the enemy,” he said, quoted by a pro-Shebab website.
The strike against Shebab leader Godane – one of the world’s eight top terror fugitives – came days after the AU and Somali troops launched a major offensive, “Operation Indian Ocean”, against the insurgents on several fronts.